Blog about my aunt’s recipe for oven rice

Ten or twelve years ago my aunt, who is the best home cook I can think of and who has made some of the best meals I have ever eaten, shared her recipe for oven rice for me. This is not a complex recipe, but rather a simple take on cooking rice that (at least for me) always turns out perfect. My aunt gave me this recipe after I tried her rice and remarked on how perfect it was—not too wet or too dry, certainly not mushy or crispy or any other texture that wasn’t perfectly pleasantly perfect. I complained that my rice often turned out too soft or too hard or too sticky or too dry. She asked how I cooked it (standard boiling and then simmering on the stove top), and then told me to start cooking it in the oven. I’ve never gone back.

This is my standard rice dish—like, if I’m going to make rice as a side, or make rice to go with beans or chicken gravy, etc., this is the go to. I generally use long grain white rice, but I’ve used the exact same recipe with various brown rices, as well as japonica, jasmine, basmati, and even middlins. I’ve had the best results when I never vary the steps that I follow; when I’ve tried to follow (or in most cases adapt) a particular rice’s cooking directions instead of following my aunt’s process, the results have never been quite as good.

Here’s the basic recipe.

You will need—

An oven

A stove top

A heavy bottomed pan, preferably enameled cast iron (I’ve found a 3.5 quart round dutch oven is ideal)

One cup of rice

Two cups of liquid—I like chicken stock or chicken broth, but do what you feel

Salt

Olive oil

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This isn’t that complicated to make:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (or your oven’s equivalent of that idealized temperature—I think you get what I mean. I mean, Know thy oven).
  2. Coat a heavy-bottomed pan (one that can go in the oven) with good olive oil, then stir in a cup of rice. Salt the pan, but, hey, don’t put too much salt in there.
  3. Heat up the pan on your favorite stove eye (or at least your second favorite—if you have another dish under way—maybe some greens, maybe chicken innards and onions, maybe red beans—don’t be afraid to set it aside for a moment. The rice only needs to set on the eye for less than the length of one song by the American punk rock band The Ramones. You can get your black eyed peas back to their spot in no time).
  4. Keep stirring until the rice is translucent but not the least bit browned. img_9532(Hey, don’t stop stirring like I did to take this pic earlier tonight. You can see on my spoon that the rice is almost there—some grains are not translucent yet though).
  5. Add your two cups of liquid (preferably chicken broth or stock). I like to take the rice off the heat when I do this, and give it maybe 30 seconds so that it’s not too hot when I add the liquid. Avoid adding cold liquid to the dish. (You can also add alcohol before the two cups of liquid—sherry or white wine are both good, or even red if you’re feeling adventurous—but keep it to just a few ounces and cook it out before you add the broth).
  6. Bring the rice and broth to a not-quite boil. Like, I hope you preheated that oven like you were supposed to, because it should be good to go. Put a lid on your dish and stick that sucker in the oven for 30 minutes. Set a timer, because you’re going to forget!
  7. Take the dish out after 30 minutes and don’t open it until you plan to serve it (it should be fine for a while if you’ve used a heavy dish). You don’t need to fluff it if you’ve done it right.

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Zora Neale Hurston’s Mulatto Rice

At the beginning of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie returns from the Everglades to Eatonville in ragged overalls to a gossipy and unwelcoming town. The one exception is her best friend Phoeby, who brings Janie a “heaping plate of mulatto rice.” Janie gobbles up the simple, delicious meal, even as Phoeby notes that it “ain’t so good dis time. Not enough bacon grease.” She does however concede that “it’ll kill hongry.” No doubt.

We’ve always been intrigued by mulatto rice. What could it be? Is the dish still around today, but under a new name? Although the term “mulatto” has fallen into disuse, and perhaps distaste (just ask Larry David if you don’t believe us), organizations like mulatto.org have also taken a certain ownership of it. For Hurston, mulatto rice is a positive thing. Hurston could have had Phoeby bring any number of dishes to her friend Janie, so it’s telling that she chooses “mulatto rice” as a homecoming meal. The dish represents a communion, an admixture that reflects Janie’s multiracial identity as well as her resistance to gender-typing. “Mulatto” is also probably etymologically akin to the word “mule,” and if you’ve read Eyes, you know that mules are a major motif in the story. But enough literazin’.

Down to the nitty-gritty–we made up a mess of mulatto rice tonight thanks to a recipe from The Savannah Cook Book by Harriet Ross Colquitt. Not that we found this 1933 cookbook ourselves. No, the real merit here goes to the very cool website Take One Cookbook, which explores the history and culture and sociology behind old, weird cookbooks–all while making the recipes. Colquitt’s recipe, via Wendy at Take One Cookbook (see Wendy’s versionhere):

Mulatto Rice

This is the very chic name given to rice with a touch of the tarbrush.

Fry squares of breakfast bacon and remove from the pan. Then brown some minced onion (one small one) in this grease, and add one pint can of tomatoes. When thoroughly hot, add a pint of rice to this mixture, and cook very slowly until the rice is done. Or, if you are in a hurry, cold rice may be substituted, and all warmed thoroughly together.

The rice is very easy to make and very, very tasty. We substituted green onions for a small onion, and used a hickory-smoked bacon that infused the rice with a lovely sweetness (we also included a tablespoon of brown sugar right after the tomatoes). We served the dish, pictured above, with ham steaks and fried green tomatoes with a spicy yogurt sauce. Hearty and rich and satisfying–just the sort of thing one wants to eat after a soul-searching quest (or maybe just a long day). Recommended.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Mulatto Rice

[Editorial note: We originally ran a version of this post in November of 2009. We’re republishing it as part of a series celebrating Thanksgiving, featuring recipes and food from some of our favorite books].

At the beginning of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie returns from the Everglades to Eatonville in ragged overalls to a gossipy and unwelcoming town. The one exception is her best friend Phoeby, who brings Janie a “heaping plate of mulatto rice.” Janie gobbles up the simple, delicious meal, even as Phoeby notes that it “ain’t so good dis time. Not enough bacon grease.” She does however concede that “it’ll kill hongry.” No doubt.

We’ve always been intrigued by mulatto rice. What could it be? Is the dish still around today, but under a new name? Although the term “mulatto” has fallen into disuse, and perhaps distaste (just ask Larry David if you don’t believe us), organizations like mulatto.org have also taken a certain ownership of it. For Hurston, mulatto rice is a positive thing. Hurston could have had Phoeby bring any number of dishes to her friend Janie, so it’s telling that she chooses “mulatto rice” as a homecoming meal. The dish represents a communion, an admixture that reflects Janie’s multiracial identity as well as her resistance to gender-typing. “Mulatto” is also probably etymologically akin to the word “mule,” and if you’ve read Eyes, you know that mules are a major motif in the story. But enough literazin’.

Down to the nitty-gritty–we made up a mess of mulatto rice tonight thanks to a recipe from The Savannah Cook Book by Harriet Ross Colquitt. Not that we found this 1933 cookbook ourselves. No, the real merit here goes to the very cool website Take One Cookbook, which explores the history and culture and sociology behind old, weird cookbooks–all while making the recipes. Colquitt’s recipe, via Wendy at Take One Cookbook (see Wendy’s versionhere):

Mulatto Rice

This is the very chic name given to rice with a touch of the tarbrush.

Fry squares of breakfast bacon and remove from the pan. Then brown some minced onion (one small one) in this grease, and add one pint can of tomatoes. When thoroughly hot, add a pint of rice to this mixture, and cook very slowly until the rice is done. Or, if you are in a hurry, cold rice may be substituted, and all warmed thoroughly together.

The rice is very easy to make and very, very tasty. We substituted green onions for a small onion, and used a hickory-smoked bacon that infused the rice with a lovely sweetness (we also included a tablespoon of brown sugar right after the tomatoes). We served the dish, pictured above, with ham steaks and fried green tomatoes with a spicy yogurt sauce. Hearty and rich and satisfying–just the sort of thing one wants to eat after a soul-searching quest (or maybe just a long day). Recommended.